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I am vigilant in my surveillance at the playground, scanning the park for any activity that doesn’t feel right, though my children will simply remember the exhilaration of the swings.
I am careful to safely deposit them into their carseats and lock the doors before I unload our groceries following stories of attempted abductions in parking lots. I double-, even triple-check the car is locked before I return the cart, never taking my eyes off the car (because even with safety as my number-one concern, I’ll never be that person who leaves a cart in the parking lot). Did I mention I always park next to the cart return? I do. The endless ways my routines as a mother evolved in order to ensure my children’s safety overwhelms me.
Childhood should be simple, carefree. Full of laughter and discoveries and smiles and fierce love. But y’all, it’s just not, and Lord knows we cannot turn a blind eye any longer. When I think of leaving this broken world to my children, my heart aches. But this planet? It’s all we’ve got. And it is my job is to prepare them to navigate it safely.
When the news of yet another senseless act of violence brings me to my knees, I take a deep breath and remind myself that I am NOT powerless in the face of this chaos, though it feels that way. As a parent, I am the most influential person in my children’s lives. I am their first teacher, their tour guide on this journey. It’s my job to sell this world to them, flaws as all. And sell it, I will.
So, what do we tell the children in response to tragedy?
First, I tell them they are safe as often as I can weave it in to our interactions. I promise them we have done everything we can to create a safe home for them. As I tuck them in, I assure them, “You are so loved, and you are SAFE.”
I limit the exposure to information surrounding catastrophic events like the recent tragedies in Texas and Florida. Less is more, but telling nothing may be dangerous.
I teach them to celebrate our differences. The world would be an awfully boring place if we were all the same. Can you imagine? If there were one billion versions of me walking around, I think society would’ve already imploded. Let’s remember differences don’t need to divide us.
I remind them we belong to one another. I remind them to care for their friends. I encourage their nurturing spirits.
I explain it’s their hearts that matter — not what they wear or how they look or where they live.
I teach them disagreements do not have to sever relationships. Differences of opinion can be an opportunity to grow.
I coach them to forgive their friends, but also know it’s okay to walk away from a friend who makes your heart weary time and time again.
I advise them to include others, to skip the “best friend” game, to invite the entire class to their birthday parties. Every child deserves the chance to have a friend, and I admonish exclusion at this tender age. I mean, honestly. Can’t we all band together and stop this mean-girl movement in its sassy tracks? I’m over it, and I bet you are too.
I remind them they will never regret being kind. Never. Kindness doesn’t equate weakness. So throw that stuff around like confetti.
I guide them to be aware of what’s happening around them. I remind them to notice others, to acknowledge their surroundings.
I instruct them to trust their instincts. That feeling in your tummy? Please listen to it. It’s rarely wrong.
I encourage them to exercise their problem-solving skills when they disagree in play, but to enlist the guidance of a trusted adult if a friend is hurting them physically or emotionally.
I promise them that while there are bad people in the world, there are also wonderful, kind, and compassionate people. That in my heart, the altruistic people outnumber those who wish to bring harm. There are helpers and those who serve others with admirable drive. There are those self-sacrificing individuals who to run towards the danger when most flee.
I listen without judgment or distraction when they share their stories with me. I thank them for sharing and tell them how happy I am they chose to trust me with that information. Today? The stories aren’t earth-shattering. But someday they might be, and I need them to know I am here. That I hear them and I believe them.
Take care of each other, friends. Take care of yourselves. We’re all in this together.